Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Promise I Made...

...started to fade.
Girls Aloud, The Promise, 2008.


This is the first of a few blogs I intend to write concerning the modern understanding of certain words and phrases, and the theological and philosophical consequences.

Giving Birth to Promises

So, back to Girls Aloud. Their recent song, The Promise in which the singer(s) states that the "the promise I made started to fade" is one of their most successful tracks, earning them a UK Singles Chart number 1, and their only BRIT award™ to date for Best British Single of 2008. It is at this point that I feel I must ensure you that I am not a Girls Aloud fanatic. Honestly. All of this information is provided courtesy of wikipedia (I'm such a good researcher... ahem...).

So, what's my point? Well, could it be that this song gives an insight into how people view a promise in contemporary society? Listening to the way people speak, I think it does. The notion that a promise can "fade" (or at least start to!) is interesting. I'm not sure it is right though. It seems as though people seem to think that a promise is something that one brings into being, and it exists as a thing in its own right.

For example, if I promise something, I am unleashing this thing, this promise, into the world to see how it will do. If it does well, if it survives then that is great. If however, it doesn't do so well, one day it will eventually run out of breath and die - the promise is mourned, and we all move on with our lives, not necessarily unaffected, but move on we do.

Further to this, if a promise is a thing in its own right, if it somehow exists independently of the one who "made" it, then should what the promise stand for suddenly be in opposition to the best wishes of its creator, it will be destroyed in the pursuit of happiness and comfort. After all, of the two of us (i.e. me and the promise) I am more important.

This, of course, is a very strange way to view a promise - because "promises" don't actually exist. You can't cage one, study one, reason with one, trade them (though people may try!) - essentially a "promise" has to be, at most, two things: Firstly, it an English word. Secondly, it is what the English word describes. What it describes is a commitment on behalf of the one who has "made" the promise to do (or not do) something in the future. So you see, a promise cannot exist independently of anyone because it isn't a real thing to exist! A promise is a commitment to something, once that commitment is no longer there, neither is the "promise" - and if there was no commitment in the first place, then the "promise" was a mere figment.

Perhaps this misunderstanding has arisen because the language that we use concerning promises. We speak of "making" a promise, as if a promise is something that can be created. The truth is when someone "makes" a promise, they are not really making anything at all. A promise is simply a verbal indication that one is committing to something (either action or restraint).

Theological and Philosophical Consequences

I have to ask, then, what impact does this skewed view of a promise have on theology and the way we think of life in general. I think it has HUGE consequences. When a couple decide to marry and "promise" before God and to each other that they will remain together, and fight against all difficulties to this end; if this promise is understood as anything but a commitment to this course of action, it is in grave danger of failing. Of course, marriages break down for all kinds of legitimate reasons - however, if from the very outset there is a grave misunderstanding of what a promise is, and the implications it has on the people "making" it, the success of the marriage is based completely on chance. This is not what God intended.

Furthermore, understanding the promise of God for eternal salvation as a commitment on God's behalf to that end, it becomes far more secure. Also, how many times do we "promise to do [x, y or z] for you, Lord" in a time of emotional encounter with God? Do we really mean what we are saying? Rather, do we even understand what we are saying?! "Lord, I am absolutely committing to do [x, y, or z] for You" - that seems quite different to the sappy "promises" many of us make to our God - where we simply wait to see how it all plays out..

We make our promises "willy-nilly" these days, because we have forgotten what a promise really is. I am sure we would make far fewer if we realised what it really meant.

Of course, feel free to completely disagree with me. I promise I won't it against you. :)

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